Newcastle Jets 'need to act' like A-League big boys - Lawrie McKinna
They were arguably the most unfashionable club in Australian sport this time last year. Now, the Newcastle Jets are the flavour of the month.
It's an A-League fairytale that has been unfolding all season but the prospect of the final chapter, to be written on Saturday, has the whole town abuzz.
It's not often the Hunter Valley gets to host a Grand Final in a major code -- and even rarer that it comes with such a compelling storyline.
After eight years of interminable failure, including the wooden spoon last season, the Jets need just one more win over Melbourne Victory to complete one of the most remarkable sporting recoveries of the modern era.
Predictably, the bandwagon has swelled. You couldn't give away seats at Jets matches last year -- now they're the hottest ticket in town.
The challenge for CEO Lawrie McKinna, whose phone has been running off the hook since the Grand Final was confirmed for Newcastle, is making sure it's not just a flash in the pan.
"They're all jumping out of the woodwork. I just hope they jump back on board next year," McKinna told AAP.
"Now they've got a team they can cheer about, and it's our job to keep that team competitive.
"It's not just a one-hit wonder.
"We don't see ourselves as a small club now.
"We can't just say, 'We're the little regional battlers.' We can't hide behind that anymore.
"We've got the potential to be a big club and we need to act like that."
With mastermind coach Ernie Merrick and 19 senior players already contracted for next season -- plus McKinna's Midas touch in the front office -- the building blocks for sustained success are in place.
AFC Champions League participation is assured for next season, with Saturday's result to determine if they go straight into the group stages or through playoffs.
A win will ensure one of Chinese owner Martin Lee's biggest ambitions is ticked off a year ahead of schedule.
"He's a genuine guy. He doesn't interfere," McKinna said.
"Anytime we've needed anything, I've just put it in writing -- why we needed it, how much it's going to cost.
"Nine times out of 10 that's all been agreed on.
"At the moment he's just enjoying the ride with the Jets and hopefully we qualify for the Champions League and doing Newcastle and the Ledman Group proud."